Cheese lovers, rejoice!
If you’re lactose intolerant, you may have been avoiding cheese altogether, thinking it contains too much lactose. But did you know that most cheeses are actually low in lactose or even lactose-free?
It’s true! The cheesemaking process removes much of the lactose from the milk, leaving behind delicious curds that can be enjoyed by many. However, some cheeses do contain small amounts of lactose, and it’s important to know which ones to avoid if you’re highly sensitive.
In this article, we’ll explore the world of cheese curds and lactose, so you can make informed decisions about which cheeses to indulge in.
Let’s get started!
Do Cheese Curds Have Lactose?
Cheese curds are a popular snack food, especially in the Midwest United States and Canada. But do they contain lactose?
The answer is yes, but the amount of lactose varies depending on the type of cheese curd. When milk is acidified and rennet is added to create cheese curds, most of the lactose is removed with the whey. However, some lactose remains in the curds, especially in high-moisture curds like cottage cheese.
Fresh unaged cheeses like cheese curds do have some measurable lactose, but as cheese ages, bacteria continue to break down the lactose until there is virtually none left. This means that aged, hard cheeses like cheddar and Parmesan are often very low in lactose.
Cheeses that are low in lactose include Parmesan, Swiss, and cheddar. Moderate portions of these cheeses can often be tolerated by people with lactose intolerance. Cheeses made from sheep’s milk, like pecorinos, are also naturally lower in lactose than cow’s milk cheeses.
On the other hand, cheeses that tend to be higher in lactose include cheese spreads, soft cheeses like Brie or Camembert, cottage cheese, and mozzarella. Even some higher lactose cheeses might not cause symptoms in small portions. The amount of lactose can vary between different types of cheese.
What Is Lactose And Why Do Some People Avoid It?
Lactose is a sugar or carbohydrate found in milk and other dairy products. Normally, the body breaks down lactose into simpler components with the help of the gut enzyme lactase. However, some people may not produce enough lactase, leading to digestive problems like abdominal pain and diarrhea when they consume foods containing lactose. This condition is known as lactose intolerance or lactase deficiency.
While most people of Western European descent continue to produce lactase throughout life, it is quite common among people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, some Mediterranean countries, and Aboriginal Australians to develop lactose intolerance after about 5 years of age. Babies of all populations can tolerate lactose, and it is rare for Caucasians to develop lactose intolerance.
There are different types of lactose intolerance, including primary or congenital lactose intolerance (where the infant does not produce lactase from birth), and secondary lactose intolerance (which can occur temporarily after a bout of gastroenteritis, for example).
People with lactose intolerance may avoid foods that contain lactose to prevent digestive discomfort. Non-fermented, fresh dairy products like milk and ice cream are high in lactose, while fermented dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and aged cheese are lower in lactose. Hard, aged cheeses like Parmesan and cheddar are often safe for people with lactose intolerance to consume in moderation. However, processed cheeses and fresh cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta may contain more lactose and should be consumed with caution.
How Is Cheese Made And What Happens To Lactose During The Process?
Cheese is made by acidifying milk and then adding rennet to form curds. During this process, most of the lactose in the milk is removed with the whey. However, some lactose remains in the curds, especially in high-moisture cheeses like cottage cheese.
The next step in cheese making involves heating and cutting the curds, which allows more whey to be released. As the curds are heated, bacterial cultures are added to the mix to ferment the lactose and produce lactic acid. The longer a cheese ages, the less lactose is left over because it has been used by the bacteria.
Aged, hard cheeses like cheddar and Parmesan are often very low in lactose due to the prolonged fermentation process. In fact, many lactose-intolerant individuals can consume aged cheeses without discomfort. Cheeses that are naturally low in lactose include Parmesan, Swiss, and cheddar.
On the other hand, fresh unaged cheeses like cheese curds do have some measurable lactose. Soft cheeses like Brie or Camembert, cottage cheese, and mozzarella tend to be higher in lactose. Cheeses made from sheep’s milk, like pecorinos, are also naturally lower in lactose than cow’s milk cheeses.
Are Cheese Curds Safe For Lactose Intolerant Individuals To Consume?
For individuals with lactose intolerance, the question of whether cheese curds are safe to consume can be a concern. As mentioned earlier, cheese curds do contain some lactose, but the amount varies depending on the type of cheese curd.
If an individual is highly sensitive to lactose, they may want to avoid cheese curds altogether. However, for those who have a mild intolerance or can tolerate small amounts of lactose, cheese curds may be enjoyed in moderation.
It’s important to note that aged, hard cheeses like cheddar and Parmesan are often very low in lactose and may be a better option for those with lactose intolerance. Cheeses made from sheep’s milk, like pecorinos, are also naturally lower in lactose than cow’s milk cheeses.
Which Types Of Cheese Curds Contain The Most Lactose?
If you’re specifically concerned about lactose content in cheese curds, it’s important to note that fresh cheeses and those with a lot of curds tend to have the highest lactose percentages. Feta, for example, has an average lactose content of approximately 4.1%. Ricotta has a lactose range of 0.2-5.1%, while Colby and American cheeses have a range of 1.6-5.2%. Velveeta, a processed cheese product, has an average lactose content of approximately 9.3%.
It’s worth noting that lactose content can vary even within the same type of cheese, depending on factors like the specific brand and the production process used. Additionally, lactose intolerance is a highly individualized condition, so what may cause symptoms for one person may not affect another. If you’re concerned about lactose in cheese curds or any other type of cheese, it’s best to start by trying small portions and seeing how your body reacts. Over time, you may be able to identify which types of cheese work best for you and your individual needs.
Tips For Enjoying Cheese Curds Without Discomfort.
If you love cheese curds but are lactose intolerant, there are some tips to help you enjoy them without discomfort. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Choose aged cheese curds: As mentioned earlier, aged cheeses have less lactose than fresh cheeses. Look for aged cheddar or Parmesan cheese curds, which are often available at specialty cheese shops or online.
2. Start with small portions: If you’re not sure how much lactose your body can handle, start with a small portion of cheese curds and see how you feel. Gradually increase the amount over time if you don’t experience any discomfort.
3. Pair with lactase supplements: Lactase supplements can help break down lactose in the digestive system and reduce symptoms of lactose intolerance. Take a lactase supplement before consuming cheese curds to help your body digest the lactose.
4. Consider dairy-free alternatives: If you find that even small portions of cheese curds cause discomfort, consider trying dairy-free alternatives like plant-based cheese or nutritional yeast.
5. Avoid processed cheese curds: Processed cheese curds often contain added lactose and other ingredients that can cause discomfort. Stick to natural, unprocessed cheese curds for the best chance of tolerating them well.
By following these tips, you can enjoy delicious cheese curds without the discomfort that often comes with lactose intolerance. Remember to listen to your body and adjust your intake accordingly.